The Promise To An Overcomer
He who overcomes [the world through believing that Jesus is the Son of God], I will grant to him [the privilege] to sit beside Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down beside My Father on His throne.
Early in John’s account of his revelation from Christ, he tells of Jesus’ observations of and directions for the seven churches. Some were following Him with integrity and faith, but some were struggling. The believers at Laodicia had some problems. Was it persecution for their faith? No. Were they suffering economic hardships? No. Had they experienced the devastation of a natural disaster? Not at all. Christ tells them that He isn’t pleased with them because they are spiritually apathetic.(Revelation 3:14-16)
These believers were so wealthy that they didn’t feel the need for God. Instead of seeing their riches as gifts from God and using their wealth to help others, they spent it on themselves. Jesus looked beneath their superficial riches into their hearts. He told them they were actually “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked”(Revelation 3:17). The solution was to turn to Him for forgiveness and to change the direction of their lives.
God allows difficulties in our lives so we may overcome them. For some, it’s poverty or an addiction or physical illness or a tragic accident or natural disaster. But for others, it’s the burden of wealth. Some of the wealthy lack insight about where their wealth came from or how to use it. God calls all of us to trust Him in overcoming the problems in our lives, but those who are rich face the added difficulty of realizing that wealth can be a hindrance to vibrant faith.
Our strength grows out of our weakness.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
It is almost a paradox that the struggles of life seem to create more unity in relationships than the blessings. When I worked as a hospice chaplain, I talked with many couples with lengthy marriages. As I inquired about the secret of their marriages, they all seemed to have a common denominator. Every couple expressed that it was the challenges and struggles that developed the strength of their marriage. They told of financial struggles, they told of personal things they had to work through, and though their stories were different, yet, they were the same.
As I have worked with churches over the years, I’ve made an observation that always external challenges brought the church together. It seems that when a church struggles financially, especially, they work together in unity but when there is an abundance and financial security they often find themselves in inner conflict.
Some of my friends served in Viet Nam. One of those served as a military police officer. He shared with me that as long as the soldiers were in combat all their differences disappeared. As we remember this was in the sixties and seventies what my friend shared was simply amazing. He told that racism and social standing and economic levels lost their power to divide during combat. They were simply a unit working together to survive. However, when they were on R&R all these things came out. What was more interesting was that as soon as they returned to combat they vanished again. When we consider how divided we are as a nation, it’s hard to believe that twenty years ago when 911 occurred, we lost our separate identities and and there was a strong sense of unity.
My prayer has been that the pandemic and all the other destructive things taking place in our world would serve, especially in the church to bring us together. What amazing things could come out of this time if we chose to work together.
Back to my hospice families. They told of friends who had gone through similar experiences, struggles and difficulties. Unfortunately instead of allowing struggles to draw them together, they allowed them to become a wedge with each person blaming the other for the problems. That wedge eventually brought separation and divorce with all the accompanying damage.
When Jesus spoke to the Laodicean church, He pointed out that they had it so good that they thought they could actually operate without His presence. In the picture John presents is Jesus standing outside looking in. This church had forgotten that they had been bought with such a great price- the very blood and life of the One who was waiting to be invited in. I think there is no more of a sad person than someone who doesn’t realize they really do need Christ and more sad than that is the church that thinks it has enough money, talent and things to do ministry without working alongside Christ to accomplish His purpose.
In the sovereignty of God, He allows struggles not to defeat nor to destroy us or His church. While we may chafe at all the changes and restrictions that the pandemic has brought, perhaps it has been God’s way to get us to look at ourselves and Him. Perhaps we have been too much like the Laodiceans and not enough like the Acts church. Perhaps we depend too much on our wisdom, talents, abilities or wealth rather than leaning and trusting in the power of God to bring us through to a place of victory. We can choose whether the struggles or the blessings become stumbling blocks or stepping stones. They either become hindrances or they become tools to get us to where God wishes us to be. Whatever the case, I think we can always accomplish more together, whether that be two friends, a family, a church, a community, a nation or a world. So how about we don’t give place and space to the devil in these trying times. How about we stop trying to do it on our own and instead work together in unity with each other and God to bring about His purposes in us and through us. Who knows what kind of a future we could have together in the struggle, trusting God. May God so challenge us in such a way that we are forced to turn to Him with our whole hearts.
Dr. John Thompson